Suspect in Recent NYC Hate Crime Claims Self-Defense, Apologizes

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In a move reminiscent of the "gay panic" defense rejected in the Matthew Shepard murder trial, the teen accused of assaulting a New York City LGBT activist last weekend says he was defending himself and that he isn’t homophobic, NY1 reports.

New York police charged Manuel Riquelme, 19, with assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment after he allegedly hit Eugene Lovendusky, 28, the co-founder of Queer Rising, around 3 a.m. Saturday. The attack occurred as Lovendusky was leaving the gay nightclub XL in the largely gay Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of midtown Manhattan with his boyfriend and another friend.

Lovendusky says a group of teens, including Riquelme, hurled anti-gay slurs towards him, his boyfriend and friend before the 19-year-old hit him in the face. The activists say the group continued to threaten them after he was hit, so Lovendusky called 911.

Riquelme told NY1 on Tuesday, however, that he slapped Lovendusky in self-defense, but admitted it was wrong.

"I’d like to apologize to him for slapping him," Riquelme said. Still, the teen says the activist and the other men "initiated the contact with the teenagers by complimenting a couple of them," NY1 writes.

"We walked past three men," Riquelme said. "One of the guys turned around and said, ’Those two have a cute butt.’ I walked up to them and told them, ’That’s really disgusting. You shouldn’t say that." He added that when Lovendusky threw up his hands, he hit him in what he says is "self-defense."

"I felt disrespected. I was defending myself. It was wrong for me to put my hands on him, but I was defending myself," Riquelme said. "He didn’t have to right to come out the way he did to me."

The teen says he doesn’t hate gay people and that he respects them because they have to stand up for themselves.

Since the assault, Lovendusky has spoken out against the incident. He recently took to the Facebook page and wrote, "I’ve been trying to avoid "self-promoting" during this whole ordeal, but I must show my RESPECT to the MEDIA who have latched onto my "I AM NOT A VICTIM!" mentality, and angled their coverage in the direction of resilience, activism, and the importance of defending the LGBTQ community."

Manuel Riquelme was arrested for assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment as a hate crime. He was released without bail after his arraignment on Sunday.

Jason St. Amand